|Statewatch article: RefNo# 6759
|Statewatch News Online, May 2003
|EUROPEAN groups that had used armed violence through the 1970s gradually
disappeared. But the Greek group, 17 November (17N), did not give up. As the "leaden
years" of domestic terror groups, including the Red Army Faction in Germany, the Red
Brigades in Italy, the Fighting Communist Cells in Belgium and Direct Action in France,
were displaced by terrorism practised by outsiders, 17 November persisted. It became an
myth that obsessed the intelligence community.
The CIA and MI6, which both had operatives gunned down in Athens, tried and failed to
get rid of it. The Greek police were unable to penetrate it. No information about its
membership ever filtered out. This "unidentified terrorist object" circled in an orbit so
singular that most books on terrorism, whether sensational or scholarly (1), simply did not
This singularity is the result of a national history in itself exceptional. Greece is the only
Western European country since the second world war in which a military coup established
a dictatorship. The colonels' junta ruled there from 1967 to 1974 and only a defeat by the
Turkish army in Cyprus brought it down. "Political change" (which was the expression then
in vogue) did not purge it, as it was hoped. 17N, formed after the collapse of the colonels,
won sympathy when it executed police torturers that the new democratic regime had
The CIA hand in the original 1967 coup was so apparent that attacks against United States
agents in Athens hardly caused a stir. But over time 17N's actions - assassinations of
industrialists, elected figures, Turkish diplomats and a rightwing journalist opposed to the
colonels - became incomprehensible even to its sympathisers and odious to the public.
When these acts were claimed, the hardline language used suggested an obtuse chauvinism.
17N, within its peculiar political autism, continued assassin ations (23 in all), bombings and
In the summer of 2002 a 17N bomb exploded prematurely, seriously injuring the bomber
and collapsing the organisation spectacularly after its long invulnerability. There were
confessions, mutual denunciations and a rush to take advantage of amnesty laws: many
hardboiled 17N members crumbled quickly like petty delinquents. The political adventure
turned into a tale of human demoralisation.
The 17N trial, which began on 3 March, could have been a useful model, dismantling
terrorism outside any social movement. But it will be merely sensational. For the
investigation happened in a media frenzy, almost a witch-hunt, with threats against defence
lawyers and the few journalists who dared to write of the right to a fair trial. It was quickly
understood that this right was to be denied.
During the initial hearings by the judge, police officers replaced lawyers. Conversations
between the defendants and their lawyers were bugged. The government decided that the
trial should take place in a special court composed exclusively of magistrates, but 190 out of
220 Greek magistrates were excluded in advance from the draw that is part of the system.
All these shenanigans were so unsuitable to a functioning democracy that Turkey rightly
demanded that its own rather rough justice system should no longer be criticised. The trial of
the 19 supposed 17N members made plain the incoherence and inadequacy of an
investigation thrown together in six months: a short preparation for what Greek journalists
call "the mother of all trials".
There are many explanations for the coming judicial disaster. Intent on avenging its agents,
the US has been pressuring the Greek government, which is itself keen to finish the matter
by the opening of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. But the mai
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